A digital revolution is in the process of utterly transforming our work and education choices. We now have to be aware that there’s a very real risk a good many traditional, white-collar professions will fall prey to increasingly sophisticated robotic displacement over the next few decades. University of Oxford researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne estimated in 2013 that 47 percent of total U.S. jobs could be automated and taken over by computers by 2033. I’m talking about jobs in the banking sector that AI based Fintech will do instead, information handling of the kind currently provided by journalists and highly paid analysts, marketing including the generation of engaging wording to produce an emotional pull (AI is getting very good at this), medical diagnosis (already being revolutionized by IBM’s robotic ‘Watson’) and even legal review. Looking ahead, there will undoubtedly be currency in finding a niche that utilises our specifically human qualities and hones these into a uniquely valuable offering. Against this background it seems to me inevitable that self-education and self-employment including freelancing, will gain an increasing edge as the relevance of more traditional approaches to up-skilling begins to wane.
Self-education is a responsive, mix-and-match approach to equipping yourself for success in whatever realm you choose. There are no subject boundaries, or constraints on subject combinations and nobody tells you to stop getting sidetracked by particular rabbit-holes of research so that you can concentrate on what you should really be studying. And in that latter regard, self-education can be very creative not-to-mention stimulating. If you want to interrupt your learning trajectory to get your hands dirty doing a practical job in your field of interest, you just do it. There’s no time limit on your self-education. It will go on as long as you do.
Of course the internet plays a crucial role in making this possible, and it’s only going to get easier. The pace of change is now beginning to accelerate and traditional, University-centric education isn’t changing anywhere near fast enough. Our out-dated inclination to believe that academic attainment (that is qualifications based on our ability to absorb knowledge and other people’s thinking, and regurgitate this in order to impress employers) is more valuable than the ability to evaluate situations cleanly and bring to bear solutions based on experience plus the capacity to think, on the spot, for ourselves, has prevented us from seeing across disciplines and through false subject area boundaries.
I think this should be of great significance to all the young women out there who know that not enough has changed over the last few decades to help them succeed in greater numbers at work, because at the end of the day, nothing has been done to make it possible for them to continue their absolutely vital roles as good mothers and CEOs of family life while working as well. There may be such a thing as part-time employment but there’s no such thing as part-time motherhood. Any mother doing a full-time job is actually handling 2 full-time jobs – and that’s a very big ask in today’s structurally inflexible working environment.
It’s my sincere contention that what we women want from our working lives can be distilled like this: flexibility, the opportunity to self-direct, challenging learning experiences, space to bring our creativity to bear, a sense of reward based on performance rather than flat-out hours worked, and high levels of independence.
And I’d like to make a suggestion, based on experience, to all young women considering their careers right now: there‘s one very sure way to obtain all of the above. That is to be very good at something specific and capably self-employed. This sits nicely with the current direction of our technical revolution and all its implications for work and equality, and you get to structure your own working life.
Girls – go She-lance.